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Inside Gen Z's fight for climate change action

Generation Climate
CBS Reports presents "Reverb | Generation Climate" 25:29

REVERB is a documentary series from CBS Reports. Watch the latest episode, "Generation Climate" in the video player above.

A generation that grew up witnessing a world with a rapidly changing climate is coming of age. Now, young climate activists are bringing a sense of urgency to mobilizing social and political movements across the nation. They say we're running out of time. 

Jerome Foster II: "Hope comes from action"

Jerome Foster II is an 18-year-old climate activist from Washington, D.C. CBS News

Jerome Foster II says he first became aware of climate change when he was 6 years old. By the time he was in sixth grade, he was talking about climate change at the lunch table with his friends. Like many of his generation, Jerome has grown up with a visceral understanding that he will face the consequences of a changing climate during his lifetime. 

"We are racing against time," he said, pointing to the findings of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. "The report says we have 11 to 12 years before we reach key tipping points in our climate system before we start to see increased disasters like we're seeing now" — disasters like the record-breaking wildfires raging in the West. 

"People keep saying our children's children will see the consequences of climate change, but that was 50 years ago. We're the children."

Now an 18-year-old college freshman, Jerome grew up in Washington, D.C., and interned for the late Congressman John Lewis. During his internship, he started weekly climate strikes in front of the White House and helped organize the 2019 Global Climate Strike that brought young people around the world out of their classrooms and onto the streets to demand action on climate change. 

Jerome Foster II organized school strikes for climate change when he was in high school. Here, he spoke at a protest outside the White House in 2019. Jerome Foster II/YouTube

"If we hadn't skipped school, would they have just continued to ignore us? If we hadn't had 11 million young people in 140 countries come out and strike, would they not care about the future?" Jerome asked.

He's continued to organize and founded an international youth voting and advocacy organization called OneMillionOfUs. Its goal is to register one million young voters for the upcoming 2020 presidential election and beyond.

"Hope comes from action, and hope comes from elected officials actually taking these things seriously," he said. And as Jerome prepares to cast his first vote, he hasn't given up hope. 

"People are still underestimating these [youth] votes, but you can't underestimate us," he said. "Young people have always been leaders of change. We've always been out in the streets. We've always been pushing the envelope because we want our future to be better."

Miguel Escoto: "It's connected to my hometown"

Miguel Escoto is a 23-year-old climate activist from El Paso, Texas.  CBS News

"The climate crisis isn't like a giant, dramatic wave that violently consumes us. It's slow — death by a thousand cuts," said Miguel Escoto, a 23-year-old climate activist from El Paso, Texas. 

After graduating from college, Miguel returned home to work on climate justice issues and founded the local chapter of Sunrise, a national youth-led movement that advocates for political action on climate change. 

"The climate crisis is first and foremost a human issue. It is first and foremost an issue about protecting vulnerable communities," he told CBS News. "There is no easy way to do that, but investing and promoting and valuing communities instead of industry, I think that can get us started."

In July, Miguel began working with Earthworks, an environmental nonprofit that focuses on the harmful impacts of mining and oil and gas drilling. El Paso is three hours away from the Permian Basin, which accounts for nearly a third of all oil production in the U.S. and over 16% of its natural gas production. Miguel is training to assist in documenting runaway emissions from fracked gas well sites and processing plants in the Permian Basin and fossil fuel receiving facilities in El Paso.

"El Paso plays a supportive role and props up one of the world's most productive oil and gas shales. The fact that it's connected to my hometown propels me to do more," he said. 

Miguel Escoto's activism focuses on environmental justice and the impact in his community. CBS News

Miguel said the most heartbreaking aspect of industrial pollution is just how quickly it can become normalized. Growing up, he didn't notice the smog that's become commonplace in El Paso. He believes the city could do more to develop renewable energy, noting that "El Paso is one of the sunniest places in the world yet only has a fraction of its energy output in the form of solar energy."  

For Miguel, climate justice is where race, migration, economic inequality and other social justice issues all intersect.

"The climate crisis makes racial injustice more unjust; it makes poverty more brutal. Our generation is able to make those connections. I think that's what gives us strength."

CBS Reports presents "Reverb | Generation Climate" is available to stream now in the video player above. 

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